Five Takeaways from NBA Tuesday: Is anybody happy in Houston?

Associated Press

If you didn’t watch the four NBA games on the slate Tuesday because you were busy stuffing your face with carbs, I understand. We’ve got you covered. Here are five things to know from an NBA Tuesday.

1) Is anybody happy in Houston? Not after loss to Kings. Dwight Howard was rumored to be unhappy in Houston, not enjoying taking a back seat to James Harden. Howard denied those rumors vehemently, but I’d be more worried if he were happy with how the Rockets are playing right now. Or how he is playing on offense. Tuesday night, Howard got fewer touches than Trevor Ariza (Howard had 48) and got off just seven shots, hitting two on his way to four points (foul trouble was part of that). Six of his seven shots were contested. Howard’s opposite number at the five, DeMarcus Cousins, had 26 and 12 on the night, leading a Kings team that controlled the boards and played hard (without the suspended Rajon Rondo). The Rockets turned the ball over 22 times and lost to the Sacramento Kings 107-97. This tweet from ESPN’s Calvin Watkins sums up Howard and the Rockets well.

Or, there was this that paints another accurate picture of the Rockets: Down 15 points with about five minutes left in the game, must-follow NBA analyst Nate Duncan wondered if the Rockets were about to pull off one of their late-game comebacks — this team tries hard the final six minutes or so of games. They are talented enough that it gets them wins. Not this time. Not often enough. Coach J.B. Bickerstaff was so concerned Tuesday that he showed both Howard and Harden the bench trying to light a fire under what has too often been a team playing disinterested basketball. At this point in the season, it’s fair to question if that message was heard, and even if it was will the results last more than two games? What should worry Rockets fans is that their climb back into the West playoffs (they were 12-12 before two losses this week) came during the soft part of the schedule. That is about to end. And the unhappiness in Houston could be growing in the coming weeks.

2) Rudy Gay had the dunk of the night. The Rockets might not have been having fun, but the Kings sure were. That includes Rudy Gay, who starts the break, gets the ball to Omri Casspi, who gives it back for a monster slam the Rockets certainly didn’t think was fun.

3) Cavaliers handle Celtics, but Iman Shumpert suffers groin injury. The Cavaliers keep on winning despite the fact they just can’t get healthy. Cleveland took charge of the game in Boston with a 17-2 run in the third quarter and went on to win 89-77. LeBron James had 24 points, Kevin Love 20. Another quality win for the Cavaliers. But the bad news is just-returned Shumpert tweaked his groin. After the game, Shumpert said he was fine but the Cavaliers said Shumpert is out Thursday when the Cavaliers take on the Thunder. Not good.

4) The Bucks beat the Warriors last week, fall to the Lakers this week. Last Saturday night against Golden State, there was a crispness, an energy to the way the Bucks played, particularly on defense. That must not have boarded the plane with them from Milwaukee. The Bucks — without Greg Monroe — were listless and a step slow on defense. Kobe Bryant looked young(er) and had 22, while rookie D'Angelo Russell showed off some pick-and-roll skills on his way to 19 points. There wasn’t much to like about the Bucks’ performance. Maybe Giannis Antetokounmpo, who had 15 points, six rebounds, and five assists and was just solid all around. Michael Carter-Williams had 19 points but needed 18 shots to get there. They better bring more energy against the Clippers on Wednesday or that will get ugly fast.

5) Larry Nance Jr. made a poster and John Henson was in it. Everyone talks about young Lakers D’Angelo Russell (who looked good running the pick-and-roll Tuesday), Julius Randle, and Jordan Clarkson. But another LA rookie Larry Nance Jr. has impressed as well — he looks like a future rotation player in the league. Don’t take my word for it, ask the Bucks and John Henson.

Westbrook says he’s ‘all-in on whatever it takes for this team to win’

Boston Celtics v Los Angeles Lakers
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Welcome to NBA media day, when optimism overflows and everyone swears there are no chemistry problems, no fit questions, it’s all puppies and rainbows with their team.

The night before Lakers media day, Russell Westbrook got a head start on saying the right thing in an interview with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Trade? Not worried about it. Fit? Not going to be a problem. Everyone is good now if you ask Westbrook, and he was in trade talks all summer is irrelevant.

“I need to just do my job. Whether I’m wanted [by the Lakers] or not doesn’t really matter. I think the most important thing is that I show up for work and I do the job like I’ve always done it: Be professional and go out and play my ass off and compete…

Maybe [he is] as a starter or maybe it’s off the bench. “I’m all-in on whatever it takes for this team to win,” Westbrook said. “I’m prepared for whatever comes my way.”

Words are nice, but actions are what will matter. Westbrook reportedly said all the right things to LeBron James and Anthony Davis a year ago before getting traded to the team, but his not wanting to play a role and fit in was a big issue. Westbrook swears it won’t be this time, whatever Ham wants Westbrook will execute.

“There’s so much optimism on how we can be great, how AD, LeBron, myself — can be unstoppable in my opinion,” Westbrook said.

That’s optimism. Even if Westbrook fits in, Davis stays healthy all season, and LeBron continues to defy father time, these Lakers are not title contenders. A playoff team for sure, but not contenders.

These Lakers will face adversity — maybe early, Los Angeles has a rough first couple of weeks — and how the Lakers, under new coach Darvin Ham, respond to those challenges will define their season. Last season’s response from the Lakers was… not good. They rolled over. Ham has promised not to let that happen, but there will be things out of his control.

Last season Westbrook was one of those things for Frank Vogel, we’ll see how he responds this season.

Suns, Crowder agree he will sit out training camp while they seek a trade

Jae Crowder does salsa dance in Suns-Lakers Game 6
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Jae Crowder wants out of Phoenix and the Suns have been looking for a trade to accommodate that.

It hasn’t come together, so the Suns and Crowder agreed he should sit out training camp while they find one (this team does not need another distraction in camp).

We knew this was coming because Crowder himself announced it a couple of days ago. While he deleted the Tweet, nothing ever completely disappears online.

Two quick thoughts on this news.

First, it means Cameron Johnson will start at the four, something that was likely anyway as the Suns look to add shooting to help space the floor.

Second, this news does not help the Suns’ leverage in getting a trade. It’s understandable that Crowder didn’t want to be in camp and that the Suns didn’t want the distraction, but now everyone knows the pressure on the Suns to get a deal done and they will lowball their offer.

There are a few potential landing spots out there. Crowder hinted online he would welcome a return to Miami, and the Heat need help at the four after P.J. Tucker left for Philly. The Heat would base a trade around Duncan Robinson, but to make the salaries match the Suns would have to throw in another player — Dario Saric, Landry Shamet, Cameron Payne, Torey Craig or after Jan. 15  — and that seems unlikely.

Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago, Boston (but it’s tough to make the salaries match up), and even a team like Minnesota could work. The challenge is the Suns are a win-now team and will want a player who can help them this season and all those teams are in the same space. Right now there may not be an offer available. As camps open and teams start to understand what they do and don’t have, a deal could come together.

Crowder will be home waiting for that to happen, not with the Suns team.

Giannis Antetokounmpo says Stephen Curry is the best player in the world

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Giannis Antetokounmpo is at the top of pretty much every “best player in the world” list right now.

Except his own.

For Antetokounmpo, the best player in the world is the one that leads his team to the title, so today, it is Stephen Curry (hat tip to Lance Allen of NBC Milwaukee).

It’s easy to see where Antetokounmpo is coming from, but basketball is a team game. The best player may not be on the best team, despite his skill set, and that team may not win. Curry was spectacular in leading the Warriors to their fourth banner since he arrived, he’s near the top of the best in the world list, but it’s not all about winning.

The takeaway from what Antetokounmpo said is how much he wants to win — he wants a second ring.

The Bucks enter the season as one of the favorites to win that ring, but it’s going to take a lot of things going right for that to happen.

Including Antetokounmpo showing he is the best player in the world.


Is Matisse Thybulle ready for a big step forward with 76ers?

Pregame of Philadelphia 76ers vs Miami Heat
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Matisse Thybulle brings a valuable NBA skill to the table — he is an elite perimeter defender. Two-time All-Defensive Team in three years in the league.

But when the 76ers got up against Miami in the playoffs, Thybulle’s role shrank dramatically. While Doc Rivers needed his defense, Thybulle’s lack of an offensive game became a problem — the Heat largely ignored him and helped off him, allowing Miami to muck up the Philly offense (he was limited in the Toronto series because he was not vaccinated and could not play in road games). The 76ers tried to solve that problem this offseason by bringing in DeAnthony Melton, Danuel House and P.J. Tucker — solid role-playing defenders who can contribute on offense, too.

Thybulle wants to be part of the solution, too, and told Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer he spent the summer focused on his offensive game.

“I’m really proud of what I did,” Thybulle said of his offseason. “I’ve worked harder than I’ve worked. And I had a meeting with [Sixers coach Doc Rivers] early this week and was telling him I feel more bought in than I’ve been before.”

No doubt Thybulle put in the work, we will find out soon if it paid off — and if that will get Thybulle paid.

Thybulle is entering a contract year — the 76ers can extend him up until Oct. 18, after which he would become a restricted free agent next summer. Thybulle said his goal is to remain in Philadelphia (and he’d like an extension).

“At this point, I would always want to stay in Philly,” he said. “And if it’s up to me, that’s always going to be my choice.

“But considering that I’ve realized the reality of how far out of my control it is, if I do get traded or something does end up happening, I can look at myself in the mirror at the end of the day.”

With a win-now Sixers team, Daryl Morey may be in a wait-and-see place with Thybulle, letting the market set his price next offseason. If he signs now, it will likely be on a team-friendly deal (but maybe one that still works for the 25-year-old).

If Thybulle gets on the court this season and shows an improved offensive game, one where he can make teams pay for helping off him, his price goes up and there may be multiple teams bidding for his services next summer. And Doc Rivers would be happy in the short term.

It’s up to Thybulle to prove it now.